Amphibious Trilogies

Lost or found in translation?

Day 8 on the Floating Arctic University Expedition
Saturday 29 June 2019

Oh, how exciting to be in the company of a small pod of killer whales, otherwise called orcas. My favourite mammalian, a primary predator of the sea. I glimpse them through a porthole onboard the ship, their black and white coloration flickering, filtered sunlight of the sea as they swam alongside the ship. I rush to the deck, my micro plastic ridden legs dancing in joyfulness. How agile these creatures are from this vantage point. So enchanting.

But I don’t stop now.

I plunge into the sea and swim with the whales, or rather dolphins, if we are to be precise. I have a hard time to control my legs. They want to caress, probe, taste and smell the orcas, and feel the sensations on the surface of their bodies in motion with the ocean. It’s best to apply caution when you meet an orca for the first time. A vocalised greeting is the way to go.

While I consider myself well versed in echolocation, I’m a novice when it comes to conversing with the orcas. Lucky for me, these black and white beauties seem to have an ability to imitate and learn other species’ vocalisations.

I try a simple phrase, “What’s up guys?”
They say, or rather I think they say, “Watch a doing hear?”
followed by, “Get out of our pod, you insipid nUcSub being.”

On the one leg, I can only presume that nUcSub is a swear word in killer whale-speak. On another leg, it’s really hard to tell. Nothing is more certain, though I do believe that ‘nUcSub’ comes from the nuclear powered submarines that rove the Arctic seas. (And indeed, I have read in the Business Insider that Chinese scientists are researching ways to camouflage undersea signals using the sound pulses emitted by sea mammals.* )

Quite suddenly, my new aquatic acquaintances turn their backs to me and swim off. With my legs, I wave them on. I jovially shout, ‘See yah later alligators’ (hmm, what a silly thing to say) and in a blink of an eye and a lash of a flute, hey presto, they are gone, silently.

*https://www.businessinsider.com/whales-could-be-key-to-sending-secret-messages-between-submarines-2018-11?r=US&IR=T

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